Prevent a PR crisis: Explain why up-front

“I think what’s bugging me about this situation is not the situation itself, but the fact that I don’t understand why,” I said to a friend on the phone tonight. The truth is, although most people don’t verbalize it like I did, often, a person is bothered because they don’t know why. I’ve watched countless businesses and organizations get themselves in hot PR waters. In most cases, the reason they are there is because they failed to explain why up-front.

The old school way of thinking is that, if an organization explains why upfront, then they are being defensive and must have something to hide. But, like many other communication principles, the advent of the Internet and particularly the access to information has changed that. People are now used to being able to use the Internet to fulfill all those unfulfilled questions of why. When they can’t, then they become suspicious.

So, bottom line, lean on the side of always needing to tell people why. You don’t have to make a big deal about it, perhaps a page on your website or a sign tucked in the corner like the sign below from Lakewood United Methodist Church. The information is there if people want to read it.

A sign explaining why the church charges for coffee
Sorry for the blurry image, I was standing between people and their coffee, but this is a great example from Lakewood United Methodist Church in Houston of how to subtly explain why.


Are there instances where you shouldn’t tell people why ahead of time? Sure. If a cereal company decides to raise their price per box $ .10, probably it would be a bad idea since it’s such a small increase. And, if you have to fire someone, you can’t tell people why because it breaks the law. So how do you know when to tell people why and when not to and how is the best way to do it? I wish there was a clear-cut answer, but there isn’t. This is where the ART part of communication, public relations, and marketing comes in.

This blog post isn’t to tell you when to and when not to. Instead, the point of this post is to bring this issue to the forefront of your thinking. Do you need to be explaining why about something currently? How can you remember to consider this in the future when you are planning for a change in your organization?  Beyond customers, do you explain why to employees?

2 thoughts on “Prevent a PR crisis: Explain why up-front”

  1. Great article! I think KitchenAid did a good job of being candid with their audiences recently when they had the twitter mishap. They put the fire out pretty quickly…..considering.

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